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New Loyola Study Concludes Prison Sentences For Gun Charges Often Don't Target Violent Offenders And Don't Improve Safety

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Grainy security camera footage recently showed a man in Chinatown getting shot in the hand while trying to fight off a group of robbers – in one of the latest incidents amid the gun violence epidemic plaguing the city.

For months, we have been digging into the sources of the violence, and possible solutions. As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported Thursday, new research looks at prison sentences – and whether or not they actually keep us safer.

The researchers at Loyola University Chicago just wrapped up a two-year study into whether stricter gun possession laws in Illinois help fix the problem. The answer might surprise you.

WEB EXTRA: Read The Loyola Study

In the Chinatown incident Wednesday night, the 40-year-old victim was in a parked car with flashing hazard lights on. A group of men approached the car on the 200 block of West 23rd Street around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday – and at least one had a gun and demanded the man's wallet.

When the man wouldn't comply, an assailant shot him in the hand.

Surveillance video from the CBS 2 Investigators shows it happened in a little over 20 seconds. It is just one of more than 1,600 shooting incidents in Chicago so far this year.Dave

But the new 33-page study from researchers at Loyola University shows that it's not necessarily the person who pulls the trigger that's being sent to jail.

"Police have increased their ability and the numbers of people they're arresting for illegally possessing a gun," said Dave Olson of the Department of Criminal Justice at Loyola. "That does not mean those are the same people that are shooting guns."

Olson and a team of researchers found that nearly two thirds of convictions in Illinois for gun crimes are for simple possession of a firearm, not for actually shooting or wounding someone.

"For the most part, they're not being caught," Olson said.

Researchers found many people imprisoned for possessing a gun claimed to have it for self-defense, and the vast majority of those sentenced for firearm possession were not arrested for violent crimes during the three-year period they were tracked following their release.

Olson said sending this group to prison really doesn't gain any public safety benefit — and it comes at a huge cost to taxpayers.

"We're seeing some changes in Illinois with greater investments in communities that could benefit from more services and more opportunity that are completely separate from the justice system," Olson said.

The Loyola study also had some interesting findings about Cook County too.

Researchers found that people convicted in Cook County were more likely to be sentenced to prison than anywhere else in the state of Illinois. So they point out that more people locked up for gun crimes in Cook County has not resulted in less violence.

Meanwhile in the Chinatown incident, the CPD said they're looking for a 2018 Dodge Durango SUV with handicap Illinois plates 314743. Police say to please be on the lookout for this vehicle and call 911 if seen – and do not approach as the occupants are considered armed and dangerous.

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